LONDON (AFP) - British Prime Minister Theresa May reached an “outline agreement” on Saturday (June 10) with the ultra-conservative Democratic Unionist Party in order to be able to govern after a humiliating election that has left her authority in tatters.
May’s Conservatives lost their parliamentary majority in Thursday’s vote and need the support of the 10 MPs from Northern Ireland’s DUP to have a majority.
“We can confirm that the Democratic Unionist Party have agreed to the principles of an outline agreement to support the Conservative government,” a spokesman for May said.
The spokesman indicated this would not be a formal coalition but a minority government with looser DUP support on a “confidence and supply basis”.
“We welcome this commitment, which can provide the stability and certainty the whole country requires as we embark on Brexit and beyond,” he said.
The details of the agreement “will be put forward for discussion and agreement” at a cabinet meeting on Monday, a day before the new parliament meets, the spokesman said.
There was no mention of what concessions the DUP may have asked for, amid growing concern about the influence of a party opposed to abortion and gay marriage, and which has proved hugely controversial in the past over the homophobic and sectarian views of some of its representatives.
May earlier on Saturday lost her two closest aides as she struggled to reassert her leadership after a crushing election setback.
The Conservative leader has been warned that her days are numbered after calling Thursday’s vote three years early, only to lose her majority in parliament.
Senior party figures have cautioned against any immediate leadership challenge, saying it would cause only further disruption as Britain prepares to start Brexit negotiations as early as June 19.
But media reports suggest they had demanded the departure of May’s joint chiefs of staff, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, as the price for allowing the 60-year-old vicar’s daughter to stay in office.
They were replaced by Gavin Barwell, a former housing minister who lost his seat in the election.
May put on a brave face after Thursday’s vote, expressing sorrow for the MPs who lost their seats but refusing to acknowledge how her election gamble backfired.
“From hubris to humiliation,” said the left-leaning Guardian.
“May stares into the abyss,” wrote The Times, while the Conservative-supporting Sun tabloid said succinctly: “She’s had her chips.”
The resignations of Timothy and Hill, on whom May had been heavily reliant since her previous job at the interior ministry, will be a personal blow.
Timothy said he took responsibility for the Conservative manifesto, including a plan for elderly social care that caused a backlash among many core voters.
A party spokesman confirmed the resignation of Hill, a combative character who one former colleague said had helped create a “toxic” atmosphere at the heart of the government.
The news came as May prepared to name the rest of her cabinet, after revealing Friday that her five most senior ministers would remain in their posts.
Before the election, she had been widely expected to sack finance minister Philip Hammond following a reported clash over her Brexit strategy.
Several Conservative lawmakers have warned that May cannot carry on indefinitely, after throwing away a 17-seat majority in the 650-seat House of Commons.
But former party leader Iain Duncan Smith said a leadership contest now would be a “catastrophe”.
'DUP HAS GOT TO GO'
The Conservatives won 318 seats, down from 331 in 2015 and falling short of an overall majority, after the opposition Labour party under socialist leader Jeremy Corbyn scored hefty gains.
DUP leader Arlene Foster, whose party won 10 seats, had said Friday that she was ready to talk to the Conservatives on “how it may be possible to bring stability to our nation”.
But Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, who is gay, was among the first to express disquiet over a deal with the DUP, which is opposed to abortion and gay rights.
“I sought, and to be fair to the prime minister, received a categoric assurance that in talking to the DUP that there would be no suggestion of any rollback on LGBTI rights in the rest of the UK,” she told reporters.
Several hundred people – many Labour voters – protested in central London against the potential alliance, with one organiser leading chants of “racist, sexist, anti-gay, the DUP has got to go”.
Joining forces with the hardline unionist Protestant party also threatens London’s neutrality in Northern Ireland, which is key to the delicate balance of power in a province once plagued by violence.
On Brexit, the DUP supports leaving the EU but opposes a return to a “hard” border with Ireland – which could happen if May carries through her threat to walk away from the talks rather than accept a “bad deal”.
The DUP is “likely to increase the pressure on Theresa May to secure a comprehensive free trade agreement” in place of its single market membership, said Stephen Booth of the Open Europe think tank.
The new parliament will be sworn in Tuesday, but the real test for May is likely to come on June 19, when MPs are to vote on her programme after it is outlined in parliament by Queen Elizabeth II on June 19.
European Council President Donald Tusk has warned there is “no time to lose” in starting Brexit talks, after May on March 29 started the two-year countdown to ending Britain’s four-decade membership.